HC Deb 06 June 1967 vol 747 cc844-75

5.45 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

I beg to move, Amendment No. 45, in page 14, line 19, at the end to insert: This subsection shall not have effect in relation to offences committed before the passing of this Act.

The Chairman

The Amendment to the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), in line 2, to leave out ' passing of this Act' and to insert '11th April 1967', is not selected, but the point can be raised in discussing the Amendment.

Mr. Swingler

It was not intended, when this provision was brought forward, that there should be any element of retrospection in the increased penalties for the evasion of vehicle licence duty. This is clear from Clause 12(8). Inadvertently, however, a corresponding provision was omitted from Clause 11. This Amendment corrects that omission and makes it clear that the increased penalties provided for there are to come into effect only on the passing of the Measure.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

This is an acceptable Amendment because it would be intolerable if there were an element of retrospection in such a substantial increase in the tax.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West-Ham, North)

I am not in favour of retrospection, but I do not see why these dodgers—those who have been getting away with it for years—should not be made to pay. I am not concerned with those who forget, perhaps for two or three weeks, to renew their vehicle licence duty. I am concerned with those who, having received numerous notifications from the police, licensing authorities and others, continue to get away with it.

As the Chancellor notified these people on 11th April that they must get their vehicles licensed, I do not see why they should then be given two months, then another two months or six weeks, come the passing of this Measure, before being brought to book. Having told them on 11th April that the law is to be tightened up, and having been given notice for years to abide by the law, I do not see why they should be given a further period, until 11th May, and then another period, until 6th June, extending into July, before knowing that we may take action.

There is no certainty that the increased penalties will be enforced. I do not see why these people, who have been flouting the law for years, should not be obliged to pay up—not retrospectively, but at least to pay the increased penalties from the date on which the Chancellor gave notice of them. I suggest, therefore, that this provision should apply from Budget day; and I trust that, between now and Report, this matter will be looked into.

The Greater London Council—and no doubt other licensing authorities—has had thousands of notifications since Budget day about people who have been merrily committing this offence. Indeed, they are still committing it. I will have more to say about this later. The licensing officer of the G.L.C. has mentioned that 14,000 people come into this category. They should be made to pay up from the time when the Chancellor notified them of the increased penalties.

Mr. Swingler

I appreciate what has been said by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). I also appreciate the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) for stronger action against these offenders, and this provision has been tabled in response to the sort of representations he has made. My hon. Friend conveys the impression that no enforcement action has been taken, but in the Greater London Area alone more than 7,000 prosecutions were initiated in 1966 by the G.L.C. against such offenders, and nearly 25,000 offenders were dealt with by the system of mitigated penalties. Those being the figures for the Greater London area alone, it cannot be said that there is a lack of activity in the enforcement of the law. We are doing all we can to get a higher degree, of enforcement. This Clause and the Clause following represent the Government's response to representations made by my hon. Friend and others in favour of more stringent penalties.

I do not think that my hon. Friend would agree in principle that this House should take action to raise the penalties for offences after the offences have been committed. The case for the collection of taxes announced by my right hon. Friend on Budget day is quite a different matter. In all other respects, this House should seek to avoid retrospection. Only when Parliament, having gone through the necessary stages of legislation, has approved increased penalties should those penalties be brought into force. That is why, as provision is already made in subsection (8) of Clause 12, we wish to make this Amendment to this Clause.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary got on to the wider discussion of increased penalties as a whole. I will deal later with the question of enforcement and disabuse him of some of his ideas.

This is not really a matter of retrospection but of seeking to carry out law which has been evaded by many year after year. These offenders had numerous warnings before April, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer warned them again on Budget day. That being so, there is not much wrong in suggesting that they should pay their just dues dated back to Budget day. That is all I suggest. I do not suggest that we go back to a date before my right hon. Friend's announcement, or suggest that they should be charged with any offences in retrospect.

It must be remembered that these people will have committed this offence last April or May, or since Budget day, and are therefore now in arrears of their taxation. I know of no other tax or duty—Income Tax or Customs and Excise—in respect of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say to a man who has dodged payment for three or four years, "We will let you off your arrears, but will give you notice on Budget day that we will catch up with you. But we will not implement it then. We will put down an Amendment to the Finance Bill so that the penalty can operate when the Finance Bill becomes law, which will probably be in another six weeks' time." As it is, these people are getting away with it with the support, connivance and aid of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for another six or eight weeks.

Mr. Swingler

It is just not true for my hon. Friend to say that these people are getting away with it. Parliament has laid down in previous Acts penalties for the offence of keeping or using an unlicensed vehicle. Those penalties are embodied in the present law, and those who offend against the law are liable to those penalties on conviction. My hon. Friend is asking that Parliament should state in the Bill that on 11th April last the Chancellor of the Exchequer declared the state of the law, instead of Parliament so declaring it in the course of passing the Bill.

We are here dealing with something entirely different from the provision which Parliament has made for the instant application of tax changes. We are not dealing here with tax changes but with penalties for offences. It would be an exceedingly dangerous precedent if Parliament were to take the step of writing into the Bill that it was possible that what a Minister declared was the state of the law on a certain date superseded the state of the law as laid down by previous Acts of Parliament.

The simple fact is that this Amendment provides something we normally accept; namely, that changes in the law and in penalties for offences should be brought into effect from the date on which a Bill receives the Royal Assent after having been passed by Parliament.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed. That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

As the Minister has said, this Clause very substantially increases the penalties that can be levied on those who keep or use vehicles without the tax having been paid. Up to now we have had the very substantial penalty of a fine of £20 or three times the duty leviable, and this is increased to £50 or five times the duty that can be levied.

Evasion is a serious matter, and the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) and several of my hon. Friends have in the past shown that evasion is growing. It is obvious that steps must be taken to thwart deliberate evasion. In fairness to law-abiding people who pay their tax fairly and promptly, the Government have a duty to act whenever there is widespread evasion. We all know that if everyone paid their tax at the right time and fully the levels of taxation, which are extremely high, could be lower.

Our principal concern with this Clause, apart from the general point, is that innocent but forgetful people could suffer these savage penalties in the same way as those who have been deliberately evading the tax. The Government have a clear duty to notify people who might be forgetful, who might get lost or confused and enmeshed in the web of red tape which seems to be growing every day, certainly under this Government, of the risk of incurring these penalties.

It is becoming more and more difficult nowadays to avoid coming into conflict with the law, and in those circumstances the Government have a plain obligation to take what steps they can to protect innocent people who might otherwise, by forgetfulness, come into contact with the law. We ask the Government to do something to assist motorists, and we think it appropriate that that assistance should be given now, particularly in view of the Government's record in taxation of the motorist over the last two or three years.

Motorists are not a small or unique section of the community. Almost one family in two has a car. There are about 10 million cars on the road. The Government have acted very harshly towards the motorist—indeed, some people consider that they have persecuted him. Since the present Administration came into power they have increased the Purchase Tax on cars and the duty on petrol. The burden on the motorist has increased by about 30 per cent.—an extra £280 million in a full year. What have we in return? We have a reduction of £55 million in the road building programme in 1965 and a further cut of £14 million in 1966.

6.0 p.m.

In these circumstances, I hope that the Minister will be able to offer some consolation, some help and assistance to innocent people who might be caught by this very substantial Excise penalty. It is all very well to suggest a general statement, but I will put three specific suggestions forward for overcoming the problem. First, there should be a simple reminder as we have for driving licences. This surely would not be an insuperable difficulty. It could be prepared by computer. Many people, perhaps our friends and acquaintances, have forgotten to pay their vehicle tax without intending not to pay it. If we are to have substantial penalties as provided by this Bill, the Government are under an obligation to advise people about when the tax is due.

The second thing which could be done concerns the problem in many families where there are two cars. They have to remember no fewer than five dates, the two vehicle test dates, two licence dates, and the date for paying the insurance. This is a burden in this hectic age when so many things have to be remember. Would it be possible for two-car families to pay their licence duty on the same date?

The third proposal is to provide arrangements for licences to be paid over three-year periods. Clearly there would be no financial advantage to the motorist if he had to pay three times the annual fee at one time, but would it be possible to make a reduction for those who pay for the licence over that period?

While we fully accept that further steps have to be taken to prevent evasion and there may be the difficulty of enforcement, perhaps the additional funds obtained would help. Although we support the Government in any general measure to prevent this kind of evasion, the Government are under a clear obligation to set out how they intend to assist forget- ful people who are not aware of the date when the payment becomes due.

Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton)

I should like to know on what basis it was decided to fix this particular penalty and why it was decided that the former penalty was too low.

I put a Question to the Minister on this point yesterday. One is accustomed to get Answers from Ministers which, to say the least, are a little discourteous, but the Answer I got I thought particularly irrelevant. I asked the Minister to give the number of successful prosecutions for evasion of vehicle licence duty in each of the last 10 years; in how many cases the maximum penalty has been charged under the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1962"; and for an analysis of the information indicating the percentage the figures represent of vehicles registered in each case. I should have thought the Answer would be relevant to deciding what the penalty should be. If it happened that previously under the penalties imposed we were generally charging very much less than the maximum, one would wonder if previously we could have charged much higher or if there was an argument for not charging so much. We might have found that there was some survey the Minister had undertaken which showed that we needed the higher penalty, but the Answer by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris), was: I regret the information is not available." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th June, 1967; Vol. 747, c. 133.] I find that a little difficult to understand. Perhaps all the information may not be available, although I am rather surprised if that is the case, but at least some of the information should be available. Otherwise, how on earth was it decided that past penalties were inadequate? Is it once again the fact that we are given Answers which show that Ministers are not bothering to answer Questions? This is a shocking state of affairs. If the Minister has the information he should give it in answer to the Question. If he did not have the information, on what basis was the decision taken?

Sir G. Nabarro

I want to intervene for only a couple of moments and to say two things. Both Front Bench speakers have talked about keeping and using a motor vehicle. I hope they will clarify that phrase before this short debate finishes. There is no offence whatever in keeping a motor vehicle unlicensed so long as one does not put it on the public road. I deliberately forget to relicence a motor car—

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)


Sir G. Nabarro

It is not shame at all. I do not suppose the hon. Member possesses a motor car anyway, or a licence to drive one.

Mr. Dempsey

Wrong again.

Sir G. Nabarro

I deliberately forget to relicence a vehicle which I do not propose to use in the ensuing three, four or six months. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will qualify what he said. There is no offence at all so long as the unlicensed vehicle is not put on the road.

Mr. Swingler

The hon. Member will realise that in Clause 11 we are talking about amendments to the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1962. I do not wish to go through all the provisions laid down in the 1962 Act but to take it as read, including the point mentioned by the hon. Member.

Sir G. Nabarro

I accept that explanation, but it is very dangerous to use the word "keep".

Mr. Swingler

I said, "keep on the road".

Sir G. Nabarro

That is a different matter.

I turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). Because he is speaking with the authority of a Front Bench spokesman—on which I warmly congratulate him—he is presumably expounding Tory policy, but he did not take me with him in one or two of the things he said. He twice used the term, "there is a clear obligation on the licensing authority to inform a motorist that his vehicle is due for relicensing ". I will have no part in wet nursing motorists. They ought to be able to know for themselves, with a simple record system in their own homes, when their vehicles are due for re-licensing.

Mr. Iain Macleod (Enfield, West)

How many does my hon. Friend have?

Sir G. Nabarro

I may have a diary like my right hon. Friend has. Unfortunately, due to the sloppy administration in earlier years, my cars, NAB.1 to NAB.8, inclusive, are licensed on different dates. I insure them on the same date—All Fools Day, to remind me of the foolish provisions previous Administrations made in taxing my cars so heavily.

That is all on one side. There is no clear obligation on the authorities to give warning that vehicles are due for re-licensing. I see the Assistant Postmaster-General present in the Chamber. I invite him to sit on the Treasury Bench.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, Northwest)

Does my hon Friend feel the same way about reminders for dog licences, wireless licences and so on?

Sir G. Nabarro

They are all redundant and unnecessary. It is all a needless public expenditure. That is why taxation is so high. If hon. Members sit here to raise taxation year by year, they will follow these policies of calling for more and more public administration every year and of inviting authorities to remind motorists to renew their licences, as if motorists are not normal, intelligent people. If I run over a "halt" sign due to a motoring indiscretion, I expect to be fined. If I run over the period of my licence, I would expect to be fined. The two cases are exactly analogous.

Therefore, with the deepest regret and with due humility, I castigate my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart and invite him to withdraw the words "a clear obligation upon the authorities to notify". If any authority sends me a notification, it will get a very hot public retort to the effect that it is wasting public funds and putting up my already intolerably high level of direct and indirect taxation.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

If my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) would look at a Notice of Motion which I had on the Order Paper a few months ago, he would find some of the information, which regrettably, the Ministry of Transport has omitted (to give him, in so far as it applies to the area of the Greater London Council. Equally, if my hon. Friend contacted the Chief Licensing Officer of the G.L.C. he would be astounded at the figures which would be supplied to him. I am surprised that the Ministry of Transport cannot obtain these figures for my hon. Friend. However, that is the Ministry of Transport.

I hope that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) can settle his problem with his own Front Bench. I subscribe to the official Tory Party policy. I believe that: there are some people who genuinely forget. They could, and should, be reminded, because the cost would be negligible. Printed postcards could be sent out and returned with the cash for the licence, the postcard saying: Dear Sir Gerald Nabarro, Your vehicle licence will expire on such and such a day. If you have it on the road or in use, you should return the enclosed form with you fee, otherwise you will be committing an offence and will be liable to a fine of £x. That would be kind and helpful and would save the hon. Gentleman from being severely fined. Under the present position, the hon. Gentleman gets a little notification, because he gets the fortnight's leeway under the Act.

However, I am not concerned with the forgetful people. I am concerned with the thousands of people—not only ordinary motorists, but business people—who are deliberately carrying on a wonderful additional business in deliberately evading this tax. Not only do they deliberately evade—it is not a question of forgetfumess—but they have some marvellous dodges. They put notices on their windscreens—this proves that they cannot forget—saying, "Tax applied for"; "Tax pending"; "Tax in post". Those notices are on the windscreens for 12, 18, or 24 months. The sun tarnishes them. They fade. They fall down, but the motorists stick them back on again.

These motorists have now learned a newer dodge. They work their football pools in with it. They send off their money for the pools. They then stick the postal order counterfoils from the orders they have sent to the pools on to their windscreens, making out to the G.L.C. or other licensing authority, "Tax applied for". They hope the postal order counterfoil will convince the police that it is in the post. It is not in the post. It is in Littlewood's Football Pools.

6.15 p.m.

This is happening. I dispute what my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, because I know—this is not hearsay—and can quote the numbers of commercial and private vehicles which have been reported at intervals of a month over three years. I can take my hon. Friend tomorrow morning or any day of the week and show him a commercial vehicle which is untaxed. The firm concerned has three vehicles, all untaxed. The firm turns over thousands of pounds per week and makes hundreds of pounds per week profit. Not only do these people deliberately not pay the tax. They say that they will not pay it.

This leads me on to the question of the fine. It is true that the present penalty is not severe enough, because it is a profitable proposition to evade payment. When my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton gets the G.L.C. figures, which he can learn either from my Motion or from the Chief Licensing Officer of the G.L.C, he will find that the mitigated penalty scheme is mostly in use. This is done for two reasons, the first of which is that this offence is now so prevalent that the police have almost given up reporting the matter. I could quote police stations and policemen who have said before witnesses that there were so many of these cases which they were reporting day in and day out that they have now given up reporting them because there are too many of them.

Not long ago I went to the Caledonian Road Police Station, at Islington, because I found 25 unlicensed vehicles in 100 yards of the Caledonian Road. I went into the police station and said, "Will you go and look at these vehicles?". I did not divulge who I was. The policeman said, "Why?". I said, "There are 25 unlicensed vehicles in this one stretch of road". The policeman said, "Do not worry about that. Take a five-minute walk round here and you will find 3,000 unlicensed vehicles". I said, "I thought that your job was to enforce the law". He said, "No. We have given that up, because we have been doing nothing else". I have sent in reports of unlicensed vehicles. I have had letters from all over the country telling the same story of how the police or the licensing authority has been notified, but no action has been taken.

I say "No action has been taken", because the vehicles are still running around to this day without licences. If action were taken, I would assume that there would be either the mitigated penalty or the fine and then the licence would be put on. Sometimes motorists pay the mitigated penalty or the fine, but do not take out the licence. They drive up to the court; they pay their fine or mitigated penalty and off they go; they do not take out the licence.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm from his interesting investigations that a large proportion of these people not only do not pay their licence fees, but run about uninsured as well?

Mr. Lewis

I was coming to that point next.

The important question is: why is this done? It is done for two or three reasons. One is the insurance. However, before I get on to that question, an even more serious aspect is that there are now three-yearly vehicle tests. Before a man can get his vehicle Excise licence, he has to supply his insurance certificate and, if the vehicle is three years or more old, a test certificate as well. Many of these vehicles are not fit to pass the three-year test. What do these people do? They say to themselves, "We will not be able to get a three-year test certificate, so we will not trouble to apply for the Road Fund licence. Also, as we do not now intend to apply for that, we will not trouble to take out insurance, either".

A police superintendent told me that he witnessed the knocking down of an old lady on a pedestrian crossing. It was a hit-and-run motorist, but he thought to himself that it would be all right as he had got the number of the vehicle and could trace it, with all the paraphernalia of investigation which the police have. But after six months they gave up. There was no record of that vehicle having been licensed at all during the past seven years. But it was on the road. There had been a series of changes of ownership, but at no time had the vehicle been licensed or new ownership notified.

This is the other dodge, not only dodging the roadworthiness test and insurance but dodging registration of change of ownership. This is very serious. I challenge my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to tell me what his Department does about enforcement. It has its occasional spot road checks, but what else does it do to ensure that people license their vehicles and get roadworthiness certificates? In fact, nothing whatever is done. His Department brings in the legislation requiring the three-year test, but, if someone does not apply for the Road Fund licence and he does not get caught in a road check, the Department can do nothing to ensure that vehicles are roadworthy and insured.

I saw one of these road checks in Wood Green High Road the other day. As I was driving along, I saw a big notice in the road saying, "Halt—Road Check Ahead". I said to my wife, who was sitting next to me, "Look at all these people turning off here", and then I realised that they had seen the notice. Anyway, I got to the check point and, fortunately, they did not check me—they might have found something wrong, perhaps—and, after I had gone through, I stopped and walked back. I was told that it was a Ministry of Transport check, and, when I asked why I had not been checked, the man said that they let through so many and checked so many. When I asked what about all those people further along who were turning off and going round the back, he said, "We cannot do anything about that".

It is a serious offence not only to dodge the taxation, but, as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) said, to dodge the insurance. In the case I mentioned, the old lady's next-of-kin got no compensation because the vehicle was untraceable. It is time that the Ministry of Transport, the Treasury and all the Departments concerned got down to the job of enforcement. There is no point in having a fine of £1, £10, or even £50 or £100 if it is not enforced. It is not being enforced at the moment.

If my hon. Friend assures me that it is being enforced, will he refer to the list of vehicles which I have supplied and which others have supplied to him since the hon. Member for Croydon, Northwest (Mr. Frederic Harris) and I have been campaigning on this matter? How many of those vehicles reported as unlicensed are still on the roads and unlicensed three, four or five months afterwards? I can tell the Committee myself. In my bag outside I have a list of vehicles—in some instances with the names and addresses of the owners, sometimes the names and addresses of firms—which have been notified as unlicensed for months and months and which are still on the roads neither licensed nor road tested. I do not know about insurance, but my guess is that there is no insurance either.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that these things have been brought to the attention of the police and that nothing has been done? A member of my family forgot to relicense her car—only a day or two late—and in one county had to pay two guineas. Then, driving on to the next county, she reported it, to be on the safe side, and was charged another two guineas. There is no Law Officer on the Front Bench at the moment, but I should like to know whether we can get one of those two-guinea penalties back.

Mr. Lewis

I was not aware of that case; probably the hon. Gentleman's relative does not live in the London area. It certainly was not in my batch of notifications. All I know is that there are numbers of vehicles which have been reported as unlicensed, sometimes for as long as two or three years, and they are still unlicensed, either before or after any payment of two guineas. Many of them still have their little notices with "Tax applied for" or "Tax in the post" on them, and some with the new dodge of sticking behind the windscreen the Little-woods Pools postal order counterfoil.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cath-cart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) made a good point about notification, but something more should be done about enforcement. There could be a simple system. The traffic warden, the policeman or other person in authority could have power to stick on an unlicensed car when it is found in the street a little notice saying that the vehicle was untaxed, the matter had been reported to the nearest police station and that, unless within a period of one or two weeks the owner produced his licence, he would automatically, as with a parking offence, have to pay a fine.

The other Saturday, I spent half an hour driving round the West End trying to find a parking meter. I could not find a place, but I saw dozens of vehicles parked there without licences which should not have been on the road at all. If I had overstayed my time at the parking meter, or if I had parked in a yellow band area, the traffic warden would automatically have stuck a notice on my windscreen and I should have had to pay or go to court.

Sir G. Nabarro

In 1966, the loss of revenue due to evasion of television and radio licences combined was estimated by the Post Office at £10 million. There is approximately the same number of television licences in Britain as of motor car licences. The standard motor car licence fee is £17 10s. whereas the television licence fee is £5, a ratio of 5 to 2. Will the hon. Gentleman now confirm that the loss in the matter which we are now discussing is as 5 is to 2 of £10 million. that is, £25 million a year?

Mr. Lewis

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, except that I think he may have underestimated. Commercial vehicle operators are saving not £17 10s. per vehicle, but £115 or £175.

Sir G. Nabarro rose

Mr. Lewis

If the hon. Gentleman wants to debate this, I remind him of what happens to some very large vehicles. What about the 5-ton and 10-ton sand and gravel lorries which have been discarded by the reputable sand and gravel and muck-carrying firms because they are no longer in a roadworthy condition? Numbers of these lorries have been bought up by jobbers, who take them on the roads and earn £5 or £10 a load, 10 or 15 loads per job. In almost every case, that is tax free. One of these men boasted to me that he was making £105 a week tax free and that he had two of these lorries that he had never taxed and never insured. That is even worse than what has already been mentioned.

6.30 p.m.

I therefore hope that we can get a system to see that enforcement is carried out. There are a hundred and one different ways in which it can be done without damage or detriment to the legitimate road user and the man who forgets. No one would object to a slip being stuck on his car if he had forgotten. I am sure that I and the hon. Member would not object if a slip was put on the windscreen of our car saying, "It has been observed that your vehicle is untaxed. Please go to a police station and present your tax certificate to show that the vehicle is taxed." No one would worry about that, but it would help to catch the deliberate evaders.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman's figure is an under-estimate, but I am sure that the Treasury would be only too pleased to get £25 million if he is right with his figures.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Like the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), I have battled for at least 2½ years with various Government Departments to try to do something about this appalling tax evasion. I remember considerable efforts with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ministry of Transport and, in particular, the Treasury.

I was infuriated when, in the 1965 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to increase the licence fee from £15 to £17 10s., knowing only too well that perhaps 25 per cent. or 50 per cent. of the increase could have been saved if the proper tax was being paid by those who were dodging it. In other words, those properly paying the tax were paying the penalty for those who were not.

The Financial Secretary may recall the considerable correspondence we exchanged on that and particularly the last letter he wrote to me, in which he took the view at that time that unlicensed vehicles on the road possibly numbered about one in 100. I hope that he will not misunderstand me if I say that I thought that he was rather too kind in the way that he put that. He did not seem to have a great deal of concern about one out of 100 motorists appearing to dodge that tax. My figures are much greater than his. I based them on all that I could find out of what was happening in the G.L.C. area, because Croydon now comes within the G.L.C. During 1965, 80,000 unlicensed vehicles were reported. In 1966, this increased to at least 95,000 and lately the figure has been running at 15,000 a month, a tremendous amount.

I then tried to find out what was happening about these cases. About 16 per cent. were recorded as having complied with the law in due course. But 84 per cent.—about five-sixths—did not. One then comes to the mitigating penalties. Of the 84 per cent. to which I have referred, about 35 per cent. took out a licence in due course, some of them having at the same time paid the mitigating penalties to which my hon. Friend referred, but not all of them did so by any means.

Only in about 10 per cent. of the cases throughout the year were proceedings taken. About 55 per cent. at any time were considered to be under investigation, which was a most unsatisfactory situation. The Ministers appreciate that the staff of the G.L.C. will openly admit that they were so bombarded in this matter, as have been the police and everybody else, that they could not cope with the situation.

I do not go along with the hon. Member for West Ham, North on the amount of tax that has been avoided. I do not know where those calculations come from. The best calculations I could find were that between £5 and £7 million a year is being lost through tax evasion of this kind. That is still a very substantial figure. It is particularly annoying when I remember the Minister of Transport having to tell us that the road programme had to be cut. That seemed very unfair, because it was being cut by about twice as much as the cost of the tax avoidance that appeared to be going on, at a time when road deaths are at the highest level and we want the best roads we can have.

Again, on the G.L.C. figures, and taking its figures alone, in 1966 about 80,000 car owners were apparently travelling on roads in the Greater London area without vehicle excise licences. On the basis of the, I think, more accurate figure of 9 million car users at the moment, one can assume that between 400,000 and 500,000—between 4 and 5 per cent.—of our road-users are not paying their licences, which is fantastic. I understand that in some of the suburban areas the position is even worse than it is in London. That is a very different story to the 1 per cent. view which the Financial Secretary took just over two years ago.

As has already been said, there are two types of offenders. First, there is the honest person who forgets, and in that category I should like to include even Members of Parliament. I remember when discussion on this question was at its height I often used to wander into the Members' yard and find many cars belonging to Members of Parliament who had also forgotten to license them.

Then there are the deliberately dishonest people, the people about whom we are really concerned, such as those to whom the hon. Member for West Ham, North has referred. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) about reminders. I shall try to be kind to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) when I say that perhaps he is fortunate to have a secretary who reminds him when to have his cars licensed.

Mr. Iain Macleod

He has one for each car.

Mr. Harris

I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend in an intervention. It does not seem common sense to me, when we are on the receiving end of reminders for driving licences, licences for wirelesses in our cars, dog licences and television licences, that we cannot have a simple system for car licences.

Sir G. Nabarro

Would my hon. Friend apply at once for the post of assistant to Professor Parkinson?

Mr. Harris

I am not particularly interested in that.

Sir G. Nabarro

I hope that my hon. Friend will not dismiss this lightly. This is a classical case of the Parkinson theory, that because one Department of State starts reminders every Department of State must have reminders. I do not want to be wet-nursed by the Post Office, the licensing authorities, or anybody else. I shall "take the rap" if I forget. That is enough.

Mr. Harris

My hon. Friend may be very fortunate in that his memory has not slipped yet. When he gets older he will find that his memory is not so good as perhaps it was 10 years ago.

Many of us like to have a reminder, and I am sure that that is also true of the members of the public. People do not want to be deliberately dishonest in this matter. Many of them forget and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) said, it is then the honest person who pays the penalty—in some cases more than once. That seems to be very unfair. The police should be issued with stick-on labels for windscreens asking the owner to produce evidence that the car is licensed within seven days and saying that if he does not he will face the penalty. This is still only partially done at present and there could be considerable improvement in the system.

Why are so many cars on the roads unlicensed? As the hon. Gentleman said, one can go into any car park or along any road and always find cars unlicensed. Since we started this campaign—which just happened; it was not deliberate—I have had a great deal of correspondence. People get very annoyed to feel that so many people, even next-door neighbours, are getting away with it and not paying their licences. That attitude is understandable.

One may ask why the police do not do more. My experience is that they are very, very helpful, but are completely overburdened and very disheartened about this matter. They report many cases to the authorities which do not get any further and they see people getting away with it. One can understand their being disheartened.

Why are local authorities permitted to work separate mitigated penalty schemes? Why should they not work on the same basis instead of on different bases? The present system does not seem sensible. The Government spend enough money on publicity already. Why do they not use their full publicity facilities to remind people about car licences?

I repeat a suggestion which I have made before. The Minister of Transport should from time to time try a spot check in a particular town so that she can understand the extent of the problem. In Croydon, the police have been advising the G.L.C. of about 300 cases a month. That is a very large number, but the police do not assume that it represents all the cases, because they have a hard task to get round the whole town.

Another major point is that those who have not got road licences almost invariably are the sort of persons who have no insurance cover, either. We must know of many tragic cases who have been on the receiving end of a car accident involving people without insurance cover. This is a very disturbing situation.

I am in favour of what is in the Clause—and I am not a lover of Finance Bills, having been involved in 20 or more—because I feel that I have achieved something. But I have tried to calculate the administrative costs of handling the present vehicle Excise licence system. I estimate that it must be at least £2 million a year. I still pose the same question: why do not the Government think in terms of some simplification of the whole system? Simplification is needed in taxation generally.

I know that I shall probably be "shot down in flames" for suggesting it, but why not put 6d. a gallon on the petrol tax and abolish the licence? An exception could be made for transport users. This would stop tax dodging and eliminate much of the work that our police have to undertake. It is work that they should not have to be doing anyway and if they did not have it they would be freed to devote more time to tackling crime. Such a scheme would also mean that the large number of local authority employees engaged in licensing work could be released to do more useful work. It would be fair to the weekend driver. The man who used his car more would pay more. It would work out very well. In some way or another there must be a streamlining. I therefore again throw out that suggestion, and I still believe that something could be done on these lines.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

We should congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Frederic Harris) and the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) on the public service they have done in bringing this growing scandal and racket to light. I estimate that at least one in 20, probably more, cars are unlicensed. If the Joint Parliamentary Secretary were to walk from Storeys Gate down Birdcage Walk towards Wellington Barracks, he would find at least one in 20 of the cars in that select area unlicensed. How many more are there in the less good areas?

The police are helpless. One of my sons worked in a factory in South London. He was rather annoyed to find two or three workers who never licensed their cars and never carried insurance. He thought that he might tell the police, but did not want to "grass" on his workmates. After three months, he mentioned it to me, giving me the numbers, make and colours of the cars involved. I rang up the superintendent of police of the area. He said that he would look into it. He asked me to ring back in three days' time. When I did so he said, "I am sorry, but my men were not able to find these cars yesterday." Either the word had gone round that something was to happen, or the police had not really taken the trouble, because the cars were undoubtedly there again a few days later.

If one car in 20 is unlicensed—and most of them are probably not insured as well—that means a total of nearly 500,000 cars, with at least £7½ million lost in taxation. Then there are commercial vehicles to be taken account of. My estimate is that £10 million altogether is not being collected. I am prepared to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) that the figure may be double and that my estimate may be modest. I live in a somewhat respectable residential area and if I went to the East End or to South London I dare say I would find the figures considerably higher than in Westminster.

I agree that there should be notification. It would be simple to do. I myself have forgotten my licence for three months and have then suddenly noticed the omission and repaired it. Millions of people must forget. On one occasion, I even forgot to take out insurance cover for two or three months because the insurance company forgot to notify me. On the other hand, I am always correct in obtaining my television and radio licence, because I am reminded about it. It is quite simple for local authorities to send out notifications and to chase up those who do not pay the tax.

The rest of us are paying £10 million to £20 million a year more than we need because the Government are unable to collect the tax in full. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary must take this matter seriously. Let him go along Victoria Street tonight and count the cars unlicensed. I am sure that he would find that about one in 20 are unlicensed.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

Did my hon. Friend get a reminder about his unpaid insurance premium?

Mr. Gresham Cooke

No. The insurance company slipped up. I did not get a reminder and three months went by before I reminded myself.

Mr. Ron Ledger (Romford)

But surely the hon. Gentleman has destroyed his own case, because he himself remembered and eventually obtained his licence. He did not have a reminder. He realised, in the case both of the licence and the insurance, that he had forgotten to renew them. The sort of people we are after surely are those who never take out any licences, including television and radio licences, and ignore all reminders. How would the hon. Gentleman get over that?

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I pay my tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Frederic Harris) and to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), because I think that, over the last two years, they have done a great service over the problem of evasion. I was impressed by the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for West Ham, North in favour of stickers on cars. I would be inclined to make the penalty double the licence fee. For example, if the licence fees due totalled £150, the penalty would be double. That would be a tremendous incentive to people to get their licences.

It would appear that he has evolved a system which it would be easy to operate. Admittedly, it would take some time to get over what I have called the backlog, but the State would be getting £20 million per annum. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) got a few titters when he talked about different areas and the different value of vehicles, but what has to be remembered is that a lot of these vehicles would not be licensed because they would not pass the test.

Therefore, not only would the Government be getting more money in for vehicles which should be licensed, but a lot of other vehicles would be taken off the road and that would be a good thing for the safety of people on the road. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will note what has been said in this debate, because a solution has now been put forward showing a sensible and logical way of tackling the problem.

Although, on most occasions, I side with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) against bureaucracy, on this occasion I side with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), who is on the Front Bench. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating him on his rise to that illustrious position. May he stay there for a long time—on the Front Bench as a Minister—and rise to even greater positions.

The reminder system is a good one. When my hon. Friend for Worcestershire, South buys shirts from shops, and has a credit account, he does not expect that this wonderful memory of his will inform him at the end of the month how much he owes. He gets an account. The general system is that when someone owes money he is sent a statement of the amount he owes.

Sir G. Nabarro

The two cases are not in any way analogous. I buy my shirts from a shop in Jermyn Street and I pay a lot of Purchase Tax on them because I so choose. It is not a matter of statutory enforcement that I buy my shirts in Jermyn Street. In the case of motor cars it is a matter of statutory requirement that a person pays a licence fee. If reminders were sent out, at least 20 per cent. of them would be invalid due to changes of address, non-taxation of vehicles and a whole pile of different factors, so it would be utterly impracticable to run a 99 per cent. efficient reminder system.

Sir D. Glover

There is something in my hon. Friend's argument, but I do not think there is nearly so much in it. We have a statutory obligation to pay our Income Tax, but the State does not require us to remember to pay it. It sends us an assessment for taxation. If we do not argue against it then that is the figure we pay. Admittedly, most of us do argue against it, and probably get it reduced, but the State sends us a notification that we owe that amount of money

If the State sends a notification for Income Tax, I see no reason why it should not send a reminder for car licences, because the State is owed a certain amount of money. On balance, the State would get in more than it would lose by the on-cost, because even the honest element of the population which forgets to license its cars for three months does not say, "Would you backdate the licence three months and I will pay?" The duty for the three months that people forget would bring in a considerable amount of revenue to the Exchequer and that increase in revenue would more than cover the cost of notification.

Another thing to be borne in mind—and perhaps my hon. Friend would consider this—is that a car that is unlicensed is, as I understand the law, also uninsured. Therefore, you are not only doing something to protect the person who ought to take out a licence, but, if that car has an accident, you are ensuring that anyone damaged in that accident would be covered by insurance. Although there may be a valid insurance policy on a motor car, if there was an accident and the case went to court and damages were awarded against the driver, but the insurance company were able to prove that at the relevant time the car was not licensed, the injured party would have no claim on the insurance. For that reason there is something to be said for giving this reminder.

It is said that 20 per cent. of licence holders will have moved, but that applies to reminders for driving licences. Getting a reminder does not necessarily mean being forced by law to take out a licence. It is a reminder that if the car is still being run, it is time for relicensing. There is no compulsion about it. It could be done almost on a computerised system by the local licensing authority. It would not cost nearly as much as my hon. Friend thinks.

It would improve benefits for those who might be involved in an accident, because they could get damages which otherwise they could not get. It would also bring in more money to the Treasury, because there would be less avoidance and it would provide a clearer indication to the police and other authorities that any car or lorry on the road almost certainly had not put in its claim through Littlewoods and was a tax dodger, and they could put a sticker on it the moment they saw it. If these two systems were brought in we should have a considerable improvement and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will say he has been seized of the arguments of the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Frederic Harris) and the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis).

Mr. Swingler

There has been a long debate on the subject of unlicensed vehicles and the method of combating the offence of failing to licence a vehicle, and I do not regret it. I said previously that I saluted the contribution made by a number of hon. Members, at least two of whom have contributed to this debate in their constant and persistent agitation about the extent of these offences and the need for further enforcement action.

I hope that hon. Members will not go around saying that nothing is being done. Something is being done. We are proposing to increase the statutory penalty for the unlicensed use of a vehicle from three times the annual duty or £20, whichever is the greater, to five times the annual duty or £50, whichever is the greater. That is not a small increase in the penalty.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) that this is a matter in which we have exercised our judgment, and we have based it on information supplied to us by the vehicle licensing authorities. I do not pretend that it is based on a complete statistical analysis. He asked—and I have not managed to check this from HANSARD—about the failure of the Ministry of Transport to answer one of his Questions. He asked what average penalties were being imposed county by county throughout the country for this offence, or something along those lines.

We do not have the complete and comprehensive statistical information about all the results of actions in the courts about this offence, and I doubt whether hon. Members would support the time and labour being devoted to our accumulating a complete statistical picture. Nevertheless, on the information which we have had given to us by the licensing authorities and in our own judgment we present the proposal to increase the penalty as a fair proposal and a fair punishment for the offence and as a necessary deterrent.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Barnett

When a Minister does not have all the information requested, it would be courteous to supply the hon. Member who asked for it with whatever information is available. Simply to say that no information is available is not very courteous.

Mr. Swingler

I am extremely sorry if we have been discourteous. I shall certainly look into that and supply what information we have, but I must admit at once that we do not have all the information necessary to give the complete statistical picture.

There have been a number of suggestions going wider than the proposal in the Clause. In principle, I am not against the introduction of reminders, but hitherto it has been for the vehicle licensing authorities to decide whether there should be a system of reminders, and they have concluded that the extra cost and extra staff and various other problems involved are such as to make them against the giving of reminders. I find myself, unusually, in agreement with the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) about the practical reasons which he mentioned and which have been stated to us many times.

However, we are now on the verge of introducing a new system of vehicle licensing. Those who have read the White Paper on Transport Policy will know that we are now engaged in the preparation of a scheme to computerise the whole system of vehicle licensing. I therefore at once assure hon. Members that we will, naturally, consider the introduction of reminders in a computer scheme which for the first time will bring about the centralisation of the vehicle licensing system. Serious attention will be devoted to it.

Mr. Frederic Harris

It is particularly over the last five years that this tax evasion has become so tremendous. Is it not therefore time for more modern thinking about reminders in any case?

Mr. Swingler

The hon. Gentleman may be right and it may be both desirable and practicable. I agree with those who have said that this is a serious matter and we are seriously concerned about the amount of evasion of vehicle licence duty. That is why we are introducing the substantially increased penalty of the Clause.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is not the point the fact that the local authorities do not have the slightest interest in sending out reminders? They are only collectors of the tax and have to hand it on to the Treasury. If the money were going into their own pockets, they would be very keen to send out reminders, because they would then be short of the money, but, being mere collectors, they are not interested.

Mr. Swingler

The fact is that the local authorities, whose attention has been drawn to this matter several times, have been impressed with the practical and especially the financial reasons for not introducing a reminder system, because such a system would entail extra cost and extra staff. They have said that it is the obligation of the citizen to obey the law and to recognise when the time has come to take out a new licence for his car. I have given the assurance that, as a change in the whole vehicle licence system is to be made, it may become more practicable as well as more desirable to introduce a reminder system.

Sir D. Glover

Is it not slightly illogical that a local authority will send a reminder for a driving licence with a value of 5s., but will not do so for the vehicle licence costing £17 10s. or more?

Mr. Swingler

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are some differences. There is the difference of the number of times that a vehicle may change hands and the extent to which the proprietor of a vehicle may notify the authority that it has changed hands and the extent to which reminders might go astray and be wasted. There are a number of factors with vehicle licences which do not arise with driving licences and which have so far caused resistance to the introduction of a reminder system.

I should be extremely glad to be able to adopt any proposal for the simplification as well as the most stringent enforcement of the law, but I ask hon. Members, who have rightly drawn our attention to abuses and to the number of unlicensed vehicles which they see, especially in the back streets of London, to remember that they should not always spring to the conclusion that all the proprietors are automatically to be held to be guilty without investigation.

I appreciate what has been said about the simplicity and effectiveness of an automatic system, of putting something on a vehicle which is not showing a vehicle licence, with an automatic fine to follow, but such a system would assume that every vehicle, seen on the highway and not displaying a current licence, has not been licensed, and that would not be true.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I do not suggest that an automatic fine should be slapped on, although, by the way, some people do not know that they are committing a technical offence if they do not display the vehicle licence. I suggested that a notice should be stuck on the car to say that unless the licence was stuck on the window or produced to the police, the owner of the vehicle would be liable to a fine. My hon. Friend knows that if I overstay parking time by only 10 minutes, I am automatically fined, but in that case I am breaking the law for only 10 minutes, whereas if my vehicle is not licensed, I am breaking the law for three months.

I am suggesting the sticking on of a notice to say that vehicle number so-and-so was seen to be contravening the law in that the Excise licence was not exhibited. It is true that the owner may have a licence, but if it is not displayed on the window, that is a technical offence. My suggested notice would say that unless the licence was produced at a police station within seven days, the vehicle owner would have to pay whatever fine was decided. If he had his licence, he would go along and show it and all would be well. If not, he would have to pay a fine.

Mr. Swingler

In that case, my hon. Friend will appreciate that painstakingly careful and sometimes protracted investigations are needed in order to do justice to the citizen. The idea that one can make an automatic assumption of guilt or innocence and deal with it by an automatic system of fines is invalid.

I hope that my illustration will impress upon hon. Members the fact that things are being done to tackle this problem. In 1966, the Greater London Council, which probably faces the most difficult problem of all in the Metropolis, dealt with 165,000 cases. One hon. Member spoke of the police not reporting cases. Police are reporting cases in the G.L.C. at the rate of 15,000 a month. In 1966, the G.L.C. was dealing with 165,000 cases. Out of that number it was found that in 30,000 cases no excise licence offence had been committed. In 25,000 of those cases, the police dealt with the matter by mitigated penalty and there was no loss of revenue. Another 7,000 of the cases were the subject of prosecution, and at the end of the year 38,000 cases were still being processed and another 18,000 were awaiting examination.

Hon. Members may go on demanding more and more regulations, but we have to do justice to the citizens in this matter. The police are the responsible authority for enforcing this and other laws. If citizens are forgetful about displaying a licence in the window of a car, it involves the police in many weeks of investigation and inquiry in order to decide the seriousness of the offence committed; whether a prosecution should be initiated, what kind of penalty should be imposed, and so on. This accords with the laws laid down by the House providing for certain offences on the part of a citizen. I do not think that hon. Members of this Committee would lightly sweep all that away. I say to hon. Members who have been pressing us on this matter that there is an increase in enforcement action.

We know that there are particular problems about the G.L.C. At the time that it took over these powers it was short of staff; it was a difficult period. Now much more action is being taken in enforcement, both by the police and the licensing authorities. More prosecutions are being initiated. If this continues, more will suffer the higher penalties which we are droviding. I return to the point that it is generally agreed that we need the provisions of this Clause as a deterrent to the citizen against committing this offence of evading vehicle licence duties. It is fair and just that those who continue with this evasion should be subjected to that to the penalties for which we provide here.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I strongly dispute what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has just said. He has given a long explanation about this matter and the need for action. He talked about safeguarding those who are alleged not to have committed an offence, and quoted figures to show that there had been no offence. I tell him, because he does not seem to appreciate it, that the mere fact of not having an excise licence exhibited is an offence. True, it is a technical one, and, while people may not be charged with it, they are liable. What I am trying to get over to him is that he ought not to be stressing the safeguarding of those who are law breakers. There are those who, month and after month, and year after year, do this.

My hon. Friend spoke of the difficulty of the G.L.C. The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Frederic Harris) and myself have been campaigning about this long before the G.L.C. was formed, so he cannot say that the G.L.C. was in difficulties. We were campaigning when it was the L.C.C. and that is going a long way back. When he talks about the poor people who have to have the opportunity to explain and all the rest, what about the poor person who has paid his tax and insurance and his 15s. to have his vehicle tested? When he goes to a parking meter and overstays for 10 minutes, he is not given a chance to have the matter to be investigated. He is not allowed any explanation or investigation. He has to pay the fine automatically, yet this is a man who has paid his road tax and insurance.

7.15 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary says we must safeguard these other people. We should stick notices on the window saying that their vehicle has been seen without a licence exhibited, and unless that licence is produced to the police within seven or 14 days they will be liable to a fine, in the same way as a man who overstays on the parking meter. That is the answer.

Mr. Frederic Harris

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary went into the simplification of the system, but he never took up the point that I made. Could not his Department or the Treasury give serious consideration to a simplification of the whole method? We want to give the police more spare time, they are tremendously overworked. The administration costs at least about £2 million and taxation will still go on, whatever system is adopted, although we hope that it will be less. Why cannot the Government give serious consideration to putting 5d. or 6d. on the price of petrol—

The Chairman

Order. It might be a very good idea, but it cannot possibly arise on the consideration of this Clause.

Mr. Swingler

I realise that I cannot go into the question of the abolition of the vehicle licensing system on this Clause, but I want to say, in reply to what my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Arthur Lewis) has said, that we are trying to deal with the problem of enforcement. I do not think that he assists the case by suggesting that we ought to assume that the proprietors of all the vehicles on the road which do not display an up-to-date licence are automatically to be presumed to be committing an excise offence.

The Chairman

Order. We really cannot pursue this. This Clause does not deal with the offence of failing to display a licence.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

If this part of the debate is to have any value at all the Government ought to realise the value of what has come out of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) has made his point, and it looks as though the administrative costs of doing the things that some of my other hon. Friends wanted make it unreasonable. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Ham (Mr. Arthur Lewis) has made his case and I feel that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, while he cannot say that he will give effect to what has been suggested, ought to have been more forthcoming, in view of the strength of the hon. Member's argument.

If some of us who have our special subjects go to such trouble to investigate matters, as have the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Frederic Harris), so that they really know what they are talking about, and the Government, of whatever party, fail to pay regard to it, then Parliament will not be allowed to do its job. My plea is that we should have the benefit of this work by back benchers. Let the Government be more forthcoming in response to the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend; let them say that this will be looked at, because they have certainly made a good case.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.